The second and final performance was sold-out. Director Jill Anna Ponasik could be seen at the last minute swiftly rushing about the theatre with folding chairs for those of us who arrived fifteen minutes before the show was scheduled to start.
Milwaukee Opera Theatre and Theater RED’s two-performance production of A Chorus Line was one of those rare events in local theatre that brings a huge number of different people together from a wide range of different ends of the Milwaukee theatre scene. I ended up in one of the folding chairs Ponasik put down right in front of the stage. Quite an immersive experience. The cast of the show milled about in character as dancers waiting for an audition to start. Looking into the faces of those onstage I kept having, “oh yeah, that’s right: (S)HE’s in this show too,” moments. They were all very recognizable and all quite talented.
Joe Pichetti had a cooly authoritative poise about him as Zach: the guy in charge of the audition. Beth Mulkerron had considerable uplifting gravitas as Cassie--the dancer who shared a past with him. The show doesn’t give Cassie and Zach a whole lot of time to develop a connection that is supposed to be really, really intense. Mulkerron and Pichetti managed a strikingly vivid portrayal of a couple of people who had known each other quite well in some distant past in spite of relatively little time together onstage.
The rest of the show is a big parade of different performances all isolated onstage. Here are general impressions in no particular order:
Karen Estrada and Doug Jarecki have known each other for years. Here they played the newly married couple. He played brash clueless encouragement with blunt comic flare finishing all her sentences. She was an unassuming dynamo of sweetness as a character trying her best to assert herself in the challenge of the situation. Always nice to see both of them onstage.
Local musical theatre icon David Flores can dance. Really well. (I don’t recall ever seeing him dance before.) He played Mike...the one who tells of his love of dance discovered while going to classes with his sister. There’s a deep charm in Flores’ execution.
C. Michael Wright doesn’t do enough onstage. I don’t care if he’s in every single show there is. The Producing Artistic Director of Milwaukee Chamber Theatre is an amazing actor in his own right. Here he played Paul...a character who comes to the audition with what is likely the most complex and dramatically textured story of all the characters. Wright’s earnest, unflinching portrayal of the character was easily one of the best dramatic performances in the whole production.
Karl Miller has also been behind the curtain quite a lot lately. Nice to see him onstage as well. Here he played Bobby...a charmingly egotistical borderline sociopath with a heart of gold. (At least that’s how Miller played it...totally open and cheerful so long as Bobby was talking about himself. A fun role for Miller.)
Marcee Doherty-Elst was a bit of a force of nature onstage as Val--she who would probably kill to get as close to the center of the spotlight as possible. Her distinct take on the Val’s “Dance: Ten Looks: Three” was dynamic enough to light-up the whole audience.
Of course, Val is just a few auditions or a few more years away from becoming Sheila--a tough as nails dance veteran played with deadpan aggression by Angela Iannone.
The production was filled with so many other little moments of crisp characterization by Bill Jackson and Joel Kopischke and Melissa Kelly Cardamone and Mark Bucher and James Zager and on and on and on... Then there was real talent on the margins of the stage too. Zachary Dean and James Carington and Stephanie Staszak...well...it’s a big ensemble and a show like this can afford to put really, really good, young talent along the edges of much more established local theater stars. Really it’s just remarkable that Milwaukee Opera Theatre and Theater RED managed to bring so many people together onstage at once without like...ripping a hole in the fabric of spacetime or something.
A Chorus Line only ran for two performances.
Further information on Theater RED’s upcoming schedule will become available on their website.
Milwaukee Opera Theatre’s next collaboration will be with Skylight Music Theatre in March as both companies present a staging of Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann. For more information, visit Milwaukee Opera Theatre online.